Robert Watt was given an €81k pay rise because his role was “fundamental” during the pandemic, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said.
He is the highest-paid civil servant in the country with a salary of €294,920 a year after the pay increase.
"What Robert Watt does with the salary that the Government decided was appropriate for that post is a decision for Mr Watts to make himself,” Minister Donohoe said on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Claire Byrne.
“What I can do is make the case for why the Government decided that salary was needed for the particular role.
"At that point in time, we did not have a secretary-general in place, if I look at the changes that we have made, if I look at where we are from a vaccination programme point of view, if I look at where we are from a testing point of view, the Department of Health has been central to that.
"So the reason why the Government felt a higher salary was needed for that role is we believe that role and that department were essential to where public and economic health is now.”
Asked if this case has now changed as almost all Covid-19 restrictions were lifted on Friday and it is hoped the pandemic is becoming endemic, the Finance Minister said it hasn’t and Mr Watts’ role is still very important.
"The past is still very recent in terms of where we are now, the public health regulations were only changed on Friday and as you know this pandemic is still with us and it could still develop,” Minister Donohoe said.
"And in addition to all of that, we have so many other challenges we are going to need to rise to from a public health point of view.”
The minister added that he understands why the public is concerned about the high salary.
"I understand why this will be a cause of public concern and why you are raising the issue with me,” he said.
"But, the case I'm raising is the HSE and the Department of Health are central to where we have been with the pandemic and will be central to where we are in the coming years.”